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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Leafs Forwards After 61 Games

Phil Kessel Might be the Only "True"
1st Line Forward on Toronto's NHL Roster
Welcome to the third quarterly review of Toronto Maple Leafs forwards.

In short, Toronto's offence consists of Phil Kessel and its 2nd line.  It is good enough to have three (Kessel, Grabovski, and Kulemin) of the six top goal scorers in the Northeast division.  This is good enough to be competitive when coupled with good goaltending from James Reimer.  You must remember they are competing against Boston's Tim Thomas, Montreal's Carey Price, and Buffalo's Ryan Miller.

Information Used to Assess Lines and Players

There are 3 players to a line and 30 teams in the NHL.  As a result, one can set performance thresholds for each line by looking at the goal scoring league wide in segments of 90 forwards.  Within these segments, you can designate a playoff and non-playoff echelon based on 16 teams making the playoffs.

Reviewing last season's statistics shows a player must score 21 goals to be in the top 90 NHL goal scorers.  In other words, scoring at least 21 goals is first-line quality scoring.  Scoring at least 25 goals is playoff quality first line performance.  Furthermore, 32 or more goals will place you at the top 16 goal scorer level in the league.

Second line quality scoring is 14 to 21 goals where the playoff echelon is 17 to 21 goals.  Third line quality is 9 to 14 goals with 11 to 14 goals as the range for the playoff echelon.  Fourth line quality is 4 to 9 goals with 6 to 9 goals for the playoff echelon.

You may have your own criteria for assessing goal scoring performance.  However, most people are satisfied with benchmarking against the league.

Age is another factor.  Ages 24 to 26 are typically a player's peak scoring years.  You can assume players younger than 24 will improve as they get older.  After the age of 30, players tend to decline.  The ones who excelled before the age of 24 tend to take longer to decline versus the others.  In other words, they can sustain good performance into their 30s.

Scoring percentage is another consideration when evaluating players.  For me, a player must have at least a 10% scoring percentage to get regular ice time.  You can make exceptions for exceptional play makers.  Otherwise, the player should be slotted for fourth line duty.

First line  Phil Kessel carries the 1st line.  Getting proper line-mates for him has been a problem.  Expect one or two acquisitions to be made by next season to correct this problem.

Phil Kessel   RW   GP - 61   G - 25   A - 19   Pts - 30   Pct - 9.5%

Age 23.  6'0" 202 lbs.  Drafted 5th overall in 2006 Entry Draft.  Leads the team in goals scored.  Will score over 30 goals this season.  Probably around 35 goals.  Presently 15th in NHL goal scoring and 5th in power play goals.  Has recently come out of a 14 game scoring drought with 6 goals in the last 5 games.  How he finishes the season should indicate what you can expect for next season.  He is the only true 1st line forward on the team.

Tyler Bozak   C   GP - 61   G - 10   A - 13   Pts - 26   Pct - 10.6%

Age 24.  6'1" 195 lbs.  Tyler Bozak is having a terrible season as Toronto's 1st line centre.  His scoring production looks even more terrible when compared to other Leaf centres when they were the same age.  At age 24, Kyle Wellwood (59-8-13-21) and John Mitchell (60-6-17-23) had comparable scoring production with lesser roles and ice time.  Has not been the play-making centre hoped by Toronto management.  Bozak's penalty killing and face-off skills might save his NHL career.  Presently, Bozak wins 54.1% of his face-offs and Ron Wilson characterizes him as the team's best penalty killing forward.  Toronto only needs to offer Bozak $918,750 to qualify him for next season.

Joffrey Lupul   LW   GP - 7   G - 0   A - 3   Pts - 3   Pct - 0.0%

Age 27.  6'1" 206 lbs.  A proven 25-goal scorer who returned two months ago from serious injuries.  Drafted 7th overall in 2002 Entry Draft.  His presence adds size to Toronto's top six.  Allows Toronto time to find a more suitable player for 1st line LW.

There are approximately 60 forwards in the NHL who can be categorized as true 1st line forwards.  Phil Kessel is one of them.  Brian Burke's challenge is to find a way to acquire at least one more.  Two, if Nazem Kadri does not develop into a 1st line player.

Second Line  Toronto has the best scoring 2nd line the NHL.  All three players are playing to their full potential.

Clarke MacArthur   LW   GP - 61   G - 18   A - 28   Pts - 46  Pct - 14.3%

Age 25.  6'0" 190 lbs.  Toronto's top scorer.  Having a career year.  Can score 25 goals this season.  Playing very well with Grabovski and Kulemin.  Leads the forwards in hits.

Nikolai Kulemin   LW/RW   GP - 61   G - 21  A - 21   Pts - 42   Pct - 14.9%

Age 24.  6'1 225 lbs.  Biggest skill forward.  Strong on skates.  Hard to knock from puck.  Now shooting more.  Scored 9 goals in the last 21 games played.  Will score 25 goals.

Mikhail Grabovski - Age 27.  GP - 60   G - 24   A - 20   Pts - 44   Pct - 13.9%

Age 26.  5'11" 183 lbs.  Very steady goal scoring.  20th in NHL goal scoring.  Most likely to score over 30 goals.

Another team will have to offer something awfully good for Burke part with any of these players on his so-called second line.  All three players are in the peak years of their playing career.

Third Line  Doing the job defensively.  Hitting and blocking shots.  However, more size and scoring is needed.

Colby Armstrong   RW/LW    GP - 41   G - 7   A - 13   Pts - 20   Pct - 13.7%

Age 28.  6'2"  195 lbs.  Size, toughness, aggressiveness, and an NHL shot.  He anchors the 3rd line.

Darryl Boyce   C   GP - 26   G - 3   A - 6   Pts - 9   Pct - 23.1%

Age 26.  6'0" 200 lbs.  Is doing almost everything asked of him.  Hits, blocks shots, and scores.  Needs to improve on his 45.5% face-off pct.  Will eventually become a 4th line/depth player as more talent gets added to the team.

Fred Sjostrom   LW   GP - 52   G - 2   A - 3   Pts - 5   Pct - 3.7%

Age 27.  6'1" 218 lbs.  One of the leading hitters on the team.  Good hard skater.  Scoring pct is too far below 10% to play on the third line.  Not likely to return to the team when he becomes a UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent) at end of season.

The third line needs to get big players with NHL shots for Toronto to be more competitive.  Presently, only Colby Armstrong meets these requirements.  Perhaps, at the start of next season, it becomes a launch pad for Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri.  However, the long-term prospects appear to be Christian Hanson and Marcel Mueller.

Fourth Line  A place holder for depth and role players.

Tim Brent   C   GP - 60   G - 7   A - 6   Pts - 13   Pct - 14.3%

Age 26.  6'0" 188 lbs.  Is doing almost everything asked of him.  Hits, blocks shots, wins face-offs, kills penalties, and scores. Face-off pct has improved to 51.8%.  His versatility and dedication assures him of a spot in next year's line-up.

Mike Brown   LW/RW   GP - 29   G - 2   A - 3   Pts - 5   Pct - 6.1%

Age 25.  5'11" 205 lbs.  Hitting, blocking shots, skating, and fighting.  What more can you ask for from a $537k cap salary fourth liner?  This earned him a three year extension at $736k cap salary.

Joey Crabb   LW/RW   GP - 28   G - 1   A - 8   Pts - 9   Pct - 3.3%

Age 27.  6'1" 190 lbs.  Simply a depth player on a depth player contract.

Jay Rosehill   LW   GP - 17   G - 1   A - 1   Pts - 2   Pct - 12.5%

Age 25.  6'3" 215 lbs.  Filling in the tough guy roll during Colton Orr's absence.

Colton Orr   RW   GP - 46   G - 2   A - 0   Pts - 2   Pct - 14.3%

Age 28.  6'3" 222 lbs.  Teams ran Toronto out of the rink before Colton Orr's arrival.  He put an end to that nonsense.  However, he got involved in too many fights and may have ended his hockey career with a bad concussion.

Expect Toronto's 4th line to continue to consist of scrappy and feisty role-players.  Over time, these players will get bigger as per Brian Burke's blue-print.


Kris Versteeg    RW/LW   GP - 53   G - 14   A - 21   Pts - 35   Pct - 10.9%

Age 24.  5'10"  182 lbs.  A very good 3rd line player who was traded for a 1st and 3rd round draft pick.  An excellent addition to a strong team with large forwards.  However, he could not play well enough to be on the team's 1st line as initially hoped when he was acquired.  He has turned out to be an established 20-goal scorer with little upside.


Nazem Kadri   LW   GP - 17   G - 0   A - 6     Pts - 6     Pct - 0.0%     (NHL)
                                GP - 34   G - 13   A - 20   Pts - 33   Pct - 17.3%   (AHL)

Age 20.  6'0" 185 lbs.  Drafted 7th overall in 2009 Entry Draft.  Maintaining a steady scoring pace in AHL.  Don't be surprised to see Kadri back in the NHL at the start of the 2011-12 season.  Might begin next season on the third line.  Expect him to play on the top six within one to two years.

Joe Colborne   C   GP - 3   G - 3   A - 0   Pts - 3   Pct - 60.0%   (AHL)

Age 21.  6'5" 190 lbs.  Acquired from Boston in a trade for Tomas Kaberle.  Drafted 16th overall in 2008 Entry Draft.  Like Kadri, don't be surprised to see Colborne in the NHL at the start of the 2011-12 season playing on the third line.  Also expect him to play on the top six within one to two years.

Jerry D'Amigo   LW/RW   GP - 41   G - 5   A - 9   Pts - 14   Pct - 8.5%   (AHL)
                                        GP - 10   G - 7   A - 8   Pts - 15                      (OHL)

Age 20.  5'11" 208 lbs.  Has potential to develop fast.  Playing time in junior has been the tonic for his stalled development.  Still very young with high upside.

Christian Hanson   C   GP - 6     G - 0     A - 0     Pts - 0     Pct - 0.0%     (NHL)
                                    GP - 45   G - 12   A - 17   Pts - 29   Pct - 11.9%   (AHL)

Age 24.  6'4" 228 lbs.  Big.  Strong on face-offs.  Might stick with NHL roster next season when he is no longer waiver exempt.

Marcel Mueller   LW   GP - 3     G - 0   A - 0     Pts - 0     Pct - 0.0%   (NHL)   
                                   GP - 53   G - 9   A - 16   Pts - 25   Pct - 9.6%   (AHL)

Age 22.  6'3" 232 lbs.  Doing well after a slow start.  Needs to complete his orientation to North American hockey and culture.

Matt Frattin   RW   GP - 33   G - 24   A - 14   Pts - 34   Pct - 17.0%   (WCHA)

Age 23.  6'2" 205 lbs.  Currently leads WCHA in goals scored.  His scoring pace has slowed down.  Final year in US College hockey.  Certain to be a Hobey Baker trophy candidate.  Will be ready to turn pro this spring.  Toronto's fourth round draft pick in 2007 Entry Draft.  Viktor Stalberg scored 24 goals in 39 games when he was a Hobey Baker trophy candidate in his final year of college hockey.

Mike Zigomannis   C   GP - 8     G - 0     A - 1     Pts - 1     Pct - 0.0%   (NHL)
                                   GP - 52   G - 10   A - 30   Pts - 40   Pct - 8.9%   (AHL)

Age 30.  6'0"  200 lbs.  Versatile.  $500k cap salary gives team cap flexibility.  Doesn't need to clear re-entry waivers when recalled from AHL.  Hottest scoring Marlie in the past 20 AHL games.  Strictly a depth player.

Justin Hodgman  C   GP - 37   G - 10   A - 14   Pts - 24   Pct - 16.7%   (AHL)

Age 22.  6'1"  203 lbs.  Missed some playing time due to injuries.  Not eligible for NHL play because not on Maple Leafs 50 Active Player roster.  Leafs must decide on signing him to an NHL contract to place him on the 50 Active Player roster.

John Mitchell   C/LW   GP - 23   G - 2   A - 1   Pts - 3   Pct - 7.1%      (NHL)
                                    GP - 8     G - 1   A - 4   Pts - 5   Pct - 10.0%   (AHL)

Age 26.  6'1" 204 lbs.   No longer can be considered a prospect.   Good skating speed and above average face-off performance.  55.7% faceoff pct during NHL play.  Eligible (played over 320 pro-games) for a "depth" player contract.  In other words, can earn more than $105k AHL salary and remain re-entry waiver exempt.

Luca Caputi   LW   GP - 7     G - 0   A - 0   Pts - 0   Pct - 0.0%   (NHL)
                               GP - 11   G - 1   A - 4   Pts - 0   Pct - 3.2%   (AHL)

Age 22.  6'3"  200 lbs.  Having a disappointing season.  Has missed most of the season due to injury.  Will not be waiver exempt by next season.  Might be moved to make room for Justin Hodgman on the 50 Active Player roster.  Jiri Tlusty was in similar situation last season where he faced losing his waiver exemption at end of season and Toronto did not have room for Mike Zigomannis on the 50 Active Player roster.

Brayden Irwin   C   GP - 45   G - 7   A - 8   Pts - 15   Pct - 8.8%   (AHL)

Age 23.  6'5" 215 lbs.  Key development year for him.  Already has NHL shot.  Needs to work on his skating.  Slow progress in development.  Might be difficult to keep Irwin around next season if room has to be made on 50 Active Player roster for new prospects.

The addition of Joe Colborne has filled out Toronto's prospect list where they can be relied on within one year or two to fill in existing holes on the forward lines.  Some prospects have not made significant advances or even regressed.  However, this is to be expected when working with prospects.  Frankly, many prospect never reach their full potential.

Conclusion  Brian Burke remains in a strong position from a player management/development perspective.  He has traded out Kris Versteeg and acquired Joffrey Lupul and Joe Colborne.  In addition, he acquired two 1st round picks and a conditional 2nd that can be used to acquire another 1st line type player.

Although the team's top scoring forwards measure well against the best in the Northeast division, a play-making centre and bigger forwards are needed.  Ideally, Toronto needs to add three to four players to its top nine. If not through acquisitions, this can be done through the development of its prospects.

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